Located in the heart of downtown Ypsilanti, 126 West Michigan Avenue has been in Joseph Lawrence’s family since 1854. According to historical records, this three-story High Victorian commercial building was constructed by Walter B. Hewitt sometime between 1836 and 1854 as part of what was called the W. B. Hewitt Brick Block, which included 126, 128, and 130 West Michigan Avenue.
Lawrence’s tenant, Jennifer Albaum, proprietor of the newly opened women’s fashion and gift store Henrietta Fahrenheit, has restored the main floor of the building. The storefront had been unoccupied for a decade—before that it had been home to an optometrist’s office for twenty years, a wig shop, a restaurant, and women’s clothing stores. Albaum removed the examination rooms in the back of the building and the counters in the reception area in front. The original tin ceiling was reasonably intact above a couple of drop acoustic-tile ceilings. After replacing some missing tin tiles and scraping off the glue that bonded the tin to the first layer of acoustic tile, Albaum had the ceiling painted silver. Behind three layers of drywall and two layers of wood paneling Albaum found the original plaster walls.
The building’s jewel is the newly restored floor. Beneath multiple layers of linoleum and tile lay a lovely maple floor outlined in tulipwood. Joe Lawrence believes the floor had been covered up for more than 100 years.
Jennifer Albaum has enjoyed her experience restoring an old building in downtown Ypsilanti. “It’s really a matter of discovering the gems and polishing them off,” she says.